Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Cocktail, Anyone?

A journey into the drinks cabinet

The multifaceted realm of blogging has been penetrated by a friend and occasional drinking partner of mine. Known only as the Sybarite, he brings us a few thoughts on the inhabitants of the drinks cabinet. I thought I’d share his thoughts with you, as well as adding a dash of mine own into the mix.

First, for me, must be gin. Greatest of all, this allows you to make a martini, the king of cocktails, and not just because of James Bond (Ian Fleming’s views on martinis, while no doubt well researched, are for another day’s discussion). But it will also provide the base of a gin and tonic, a gimlet, a white lady, a pink gin and a negroni.

I rarely ever have gin on its own these days, though I partook of a bit of Hendrick’s from time to time on sunny days in Scotland. The gin-and-tonic, however, reigns supreme in my hierarchy of mixed drinks. Just the other day I had the perfect gin-and-tonic, put together by Maria as I discussed the latest frivolities with her and Rob on the eve of my birthday.

Bourbon may well be next. The kind I will (for now) leave to you – it is a bitter and internecine business picking the best. This will be the base of a Manhattan, an old-fashioned, a whiskey sour, a mint julep and (if you must) a bourbon and Coke. (I would prefer not to include this here, but if I give an honourable mention to the gin and tonic, then I don’t see how I can omit it.)

With due respect to the French royal house and the good people of Kentucky, I have never been a fan of bourbon. I don’t like it straight, I don’t like it mixed, it just doesn’t please me. It does, however, earn a place of fondness in the pantheon because my legendary math teacher at school was fond of the stuff, and rumoured to keep a bottle of Jack Daniels in the bottom-most drawer of his desk.

Vodka may be jostling towards the front now. I find it a spirit which divides opinion.

I couldn’t agree more.

Some will drink almost nothing else, and cannot bear gin. Vodka is a must for bloody Marys, cosmopolitans and white Russians, and some prefer a vodka martini or a vesper to the classic recipe. Very well. For me, though, and this is purely a personal whim, I find it bland and lacking in complexity: a shot of alcohol with nothing of the fun or frolics of gin.

People do get obsessed with their vodkas. The spirit has negative connotations in my mind which I find difficult to enunciate. There was a particularly grievous night on the town in Stellenbosch once with Benji and Nico in which I believe vodka, at Herr Frehse’s suggestion, played a role. I ran into Benji two days later in the universiteitsbiblioteek and he apologised for abandoning me that night, which was funny because I was about to apologise for abandoning him — memory is not entirely reliable when vodka is involved.

But while my experience with vodka up to this point leads me to frown upon it, I have an open mind. A Polish cosmologist friend was recently visiting and waxed lyrical about his native land’s vodka variations, and I’ll admit to being intrigued.

Then there is brandy. The brandy Alexander, the horse’s neck, the sidecar, let alone a simple brandy and soda. It is a vital ingredient in some of the best and most classic cocktails, though perhaps is of the second rank now compared to other spirits. But it is the heart of a classic champagne cocktail, and that is no small thing.

This is going to sound bad but I enjoy a brandy-and-coke. According to Jon Burke, this makes me a Dutch girl, which is appropriate as I’ve enjoyed a brandy-and-coke in the company of many a Dutch girl. The klippies-en-coke is perhaps the most Afrikaner of all alcoholic drinks, and thus another notch for the influence of Seth-Effrica on my drinking habits.

Rum is something of which I know very little. It has handled me roughly in the past, and the only way in which I can bear it now is as a constituent part of a mojito. But others will rightly enjoy a Cuba libre, a piña colada, a daiquiri or a sundowner. If you have a half-dozen bottles of spirits, as this article seems to be leaning towards, a decent rum must surely be among them. And I suspect it falls into the same category as cooking only with wine you would drink – don’t make cocktails with rum you wouldn’t drink on its own.

Rum and I are not friends. This dates back to an evening in my first year of university in Scotland when, inspired (if that’s the word) by rum we decided it would be a good idea to test the waters of the North Sea. The North Sea in November. I can still feel the cold around my legs.

But then I gatecrashed a splendid luncheon party a few weeks back which started off with rum cocktails (ice, lemon, rum, and tonic). The entire day proceeded so satisfactorily and proved such a pleasure that perhaps I will grant rum clemency.

Finally, tequila. I confess at this point that I cannot get on with the stuff at all, and have had enough bad experiences with it to convince me that we will never be reconciled. But any self-respecting cocktail lover ought to be able to summon up a margarita or a Long Island iced tea for a guest who yearns to go down Mexico way.

Tequila, again, brings back memories of first year, but it’s a drink best left to the Mexicans if you ask me. Our Sybarite friends continues further in his cocktail musings, but we’ll leave him there for now.

The chief point is that Sybsie is a cocktail man, while I suspect I am not. Wine is practically my blood type and I enjoy good beer but rarely find the appropriate opportunities for beer drinking these days. But cocktails rarely surface on the Cusackian horizon. When out and about, they tend to be overpriced, and when a guest, one doesn’t want to make the host or hostess do too much work (unless they’re a known cocktailer, of course), so one tends to stick to the simpler solutions to the alcohol deficit.

This post was published on Sunday, April 17th, 2011 1:20 pm. It has been categorised under Journal.
David Vinton
17 Apr 2011 7:02 pm

AC, I’m more than happy if you like to spend an evening in Manhattan to refresh you on the restorative powers of gin-based cocktails. I’m currently living in Greenwich CT, so just a short hop away on the Metro North. Do let me know if you need a guide and raconteur. In turn maybe you could fill me in on what actually happened during my university education. I recall it involved quite a bit of gin, but I’m fuzzy on the details.


Joshua G.
18 Apr 2011 6:31 pm

Tsk, tsk, Mr. Cusack. Jack Daniels is a Tennessee whiskey, far from anything Kentucky bourbon distillers would ever consign to a barrel.

Joshua G.
18 Apr 2011 6:32 pm

And tsk, tsk for having an open mind…

The Sybarite
18 Apr 2011 7:50 pm

I think you are right. I am *certainly* a cocktail man. Perhaps you are not. But maybe it is worth another try?

The Sybarite

Andrew Cusack
18 Apr 2011 8:13 pm

Heavens! I always thought it was a bourbon!

Mark R
20 Apr 2011 1:50 am

Vodka is a good substitute for gin in martinis for those who suffer migraine (gin is a trigger). But please, don’t waste premium vodkas on mixers…put them in the freezer to serve in shots. A good substitute for a martini olive is a small slice of lemon rind…very crisp.

Rebecca L.
21 Apr 2011 5:28 pm

Personally, I find that it is almost ALWAYS an appropriate occasion for beer drinking.

The Sybarite
21 Apr 2011 5:53 pm

Lemon twist in a martini is my favourite, though I sometimes go for a cocktail onion (which makes the drink a Gibson, strictly).

James Richardson
10 May 2011 3:51 am

Of course, you would have encountered Mainstay cane spirit in South Africa. ‘Cane for the pain’ was a common remedy for existential ailments. Brazilians call it Cachaca – the spirit of the famous Caipirinhna.

13 May 2011 2:31 am

A Kentuckian will tell you that American law defines a bourbon is a whiskey within a certain proof range that is aged for a minimum amount of time in new charred oak barrels.

Many people mistake Jack Daniels for bourbon, though.

16 May 2011 11:05 am

and some prefer a vodka martini or a vesper to the classic recipe.

Quelle Horreur! Surely not? But that’s probably because Vesper Martinis with Gin in them are amongst my favourite drinks. Especially when drunk in the Art Deco splendour of Rogano in Glasgow…

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